LSS: Adoption has left our lives all the better

Nine years ago this week, my husband and I traveled to China and welcomed our youngest daughter to our lives.

Since then, nothing in our world has been the same.

Greens are greener. Candy is sweeter. Pinks are pinker. The sun is brighter.

Her existence is living proof that the more love you give, the more you have. I often tell people that she naturally is the happiest human I’ve ever known. Her laughter, song and smile bless us every day.

Through the years, she and I have had many conversations of the hows and whys she came into our lives and hearts. At age 9, she will readily explain to anyone who listens about China’s one-child-per-family policy. Not only does she need to talk about her adoption process, but she likes doing so.

Of the many intangibles and unknowns of her adoption story, China’s one-child policy is the one sure thing—what isn’t sure is anything related to her biological family. We have no idea what circumstances led her mother and/or father to decide to part ways with their daughter. We don’t know if she has siblings. We don’t know anything for certain about these mystery people who gave our family so much.

As things stand now, there is no means for us to ever know.

Of course, that could change eventually.

Things do.

Just ask an adult adopted American whose biological mother placed him or her for adoption decades ago. Even domestic adoptions were closed back then with no way for anyone to get any information or make contact with their biological relations.

Our daughter’s so-called “Gotcha Day,” happens to coincide with Adoption Awareness Month. In an effort educate more people about the possibilities of adoption, Paula Milner, Director of Catholic Social Services, has an important message to local birth mothers and adoptees — especially those interested in reconnecting that they can contact their agencies to start the process of getting their records.

“We want people to know that they can contact us,” Milner said. “There are a few out there who still don’t want the information out, but if either side would want to search, we encourage them to do so.”

Milner told me that the first step is for adoptees and birth mothers in Louisiana to contact the Voluntary Registry in Baton Rouge. It is specifically set up to open lines of communication for closed adoptions from previous years. Adoptees, birth mothers and fathers and siblings should call (800) 259-2456 for more information. Most states have a similar registry.

Locally, Catholic Social Services is available to assist anyone who has used the agency at any time. Call Milner at 337-261-5654 or go to However, if you’re reading this from afar, you should contact an adoption agency in your area to start your trek.

Milner understands the importance of keeping lines of communication open in adoption.

“We’re a part of making families, and seeing the light in couples who want a child,” she said. “It’s a two-edged sword. The other side is seeing the pain that the birth mother goes through. Even though that’s a sad part of the job, we do believe that we are there for them. Once the adoption is done, we don’t just shut the door and say we’re done with you. We’re there for them for a lifetime.”

Adoption and adoption services are alive and well in Acadiana. Last year, the Lafayette Catholic Social Services office alone assisted with 7 female reunions and four male reunions.

“We do counseling before they meet to make sure their expectations are within normal range,” Milner said.

They also counseled with 106 birth moms, birth fathers and birth families. Additionally, they had 157 orientation sessions for domestic adoptions and three international placements.

“We want to dispel the myth that a couple adopts a baby and thinks, ‘This is our baby and that’s the end of that.’ There are other people involved,” Milner said. “The child grows up with questions — who am I? It’s a lifelong process. Situations change. Needs change. Issues change. It matters that they get the counseling. They can get reunions if they were adopted years ago, and we work to make it work in everyone’s best interest.”

From my perspective in the adoption circle, I understand the value reconnections with biological families offer. Even though my youngest daughter is and will always be my daughter, getting answers and explanations to those questions that never go away would, at some point, be good for our heads and hearts.

LSS: Share blessings all around

“You need a house blessing,” my dear friend and college roommate told me over the phone a few weeks ago.

I didn’t know quite how to respond.

I had been telling her what a mess my house was, that my girls and I were up to our elbows in busy and how I needed to be somewhere else in 40 minutes. Either she was missing the point or I had misunderstood.

“What did you say?” I asked.

And again, she said, “You need to bless your house.”

Bumfuzzled, I kindly said, “What in the world are you talking about?”

“Just set the timer for 15 minutes and make everyone in the house help clean,” she said. “You’ll be amazed how much you can get done with everyone participating. You’ll bless your house.”

No holy water required.

As she finished explaining, I set the timer, muted the phone for a moment and told my girls to get busy cleaning.

This blessing was all about focusing positive energy to make a situation better. I added one rule. No one could stop moving until the timer went off. And the movement had to be swift.

We cranked up the tunes and blessed our house for 15 minutes.

No, we didn’t get things spic and span in that short while. As my husband pointed out, that would require something a lot more intensive than a blessing. However, our fast and furious 15 minutes helped us to make a noticeable dent.

We got the table clean and sparkly. We got the dishwasher unloaded and loaded again. We cleaned the sink and countertops and swept the floor. We got a load of laundry on to wash and all shoes out of the living room. We did a paper sweep of the house looking for all trash and the garbage out.

It wasn’t clean, but it was better — and sometimes, we have to settle for what’s possible. That short span of time was a great lesson on working together, a focused effort and making a difference. We made a game out of it to see just how much we could get done in 15 minutes.

Truth be told, we all had a better perspective once we were done — even my 14-year-old daughter would admit it. The tiny dose of housework triggered something in both of my daughters that let them know cleaning wasn’t something to dread. It was almost fun.

Like a Thanksgiving cornucopia, our lives and homes are overflowing with bounty and blessings. Ironically, it’s often all the blessings of our lives that lead to so much energy required to keep our homes neat and orderly.

During this season of counting our blessings, I encourage readers to make a Thanksgiving List. I started making Thanksgiving Lists just last year. It’s a list of personal memories that I’m grateful to have had. Last year, I explained that the list be as long as a person is old. For example, if you’re 37, you have a list of 37 memories — but the memories don’t have to correspond with a specific year. Thanksgiving Lists aren’t that stringent. The memories on a Thanksgiving List can come from any year.

The thought required to make the list is a great exercise. I challenge you to try it this and every Thanksgiving. Reflecting on the blessings of life is healthy. Just like taking time and energy to bless your home is good — or taking time and energy to share blessings with others increases our own.

While you’re counting your own blessings, make a pointed effort to share some with others. In fact, I challenge you to see how many ways between now and Thursday you can find to bless someone else’s life. Remember, it’s easy to bless the lives of people we know and love. The challenge is blessing the lives of the people we don’t know at all.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears on Sundays. She’d love to hear your experiences of sharing blessings this week. Email her at

LSS: Honoring veterans

On 11/11/11, a date a friend and I have been anticipating for years for pure numeric magic, Americans were encouraged to thank veterans known and unknown who have made a difference in our lives.
Of the many veterans I know and love, including my dad and brother—and the legions of those I don’t but am grateful to, I always think about my uncle, CPL Leslie Frank Greer, on Veteran’s Day.
Technically, he’s still missing in action in the Korean War. My grandmother waited for him to come home until the day she died 40 years after he went missing. Though his body has never been found or identified, the Army—unbeknownst to our family—had changed his status to Died in Action, years earlier. No one had told us. I found out by chance when I went to the Korean War Memorial’s dedication in Washington, D.C.
Since then, many people in the military have worked to bring resolution on my uncle’s remains. They’ve taken DNA samples from family members and invited us to seminars and workshops. Sadly, my grandmother never got such comfort.
About the time she passed away in the early 1990s, I found a stack of letters, yellowed and tied up with string, in a small cigar box she kept. The letters were mostly form responses sent in reply to my grandmother’s handwritten letters of inquiry mailed over the course of several decades—her attempts toward learning something about her son’s whereabouts.
She never got a single detail.
Thinking about all the questions that bundle of letters never answered still breaks my heart. Especially when I contrast it to the detailed information the military recently sent me about the day my uncle surely died.
The report reads like a history lesson offering context and specifics:
By the beginning of September 1950, the war in Korea was barely two months old and had been going very badly. … The communist government of North Korea had surprised the world with its 25 June 1950 invasion of South Korea. The North Korean People’s Army was comprised of battle-tested and victorious veterans of the just finished three-year war in China. …The need for reinforcements from America was so great that once the troops arrived in the port of Pusan, South Korea, they were immediately sent to the front lines, despite having spent the weeks at sea. CPL Greer and the 2nd Infantry Division arrived in Pusan Harbor on 20 July and were on the front lines fighting the North Koreans by 8 August.
After dark on 31 August, the task force’s supporting units (heavy mortars, light machine gun sections and the engineers who would boat the men across) moved to the river and began to set-up their equipment. Just after 9 p.m., the leading elements of the North Korean’s offensive emerged from the river and began their own advance. …By dawn of the next day, the KPA had overrun “Easy” Company and the Regimental headquarters, and were operating almost six miles to the rear of the 9th Regiment’s front lines. CPL Greer was lost sometime during those early hours of fighting. As near as we can determine, he was never alive in enemy hands.
I’ve corresponded with other soldiers who were there and understand why he was never found or recovered. They’ve told me it was a massacre beyond imaginable proportions.
Though the horrors of the specifics don’t ease the pain of the loss of a child, I still wish my grandmother could have known what happened to her oldest son. The waiting and hoping helped take her mind.
Turns out, the military knew what had happened that day all along, but the documents were classified for 50 years. What good classifying that information did for anyone remains a mystery to me. My uncle died early in the war.
Maybe someone didn’t want the general public to know how bad bouts of battle in Korea had been? Or how poor decision-making led the military to send green 19-year-old boys, whose first trip off their family’s Mississippi cotton farm took them to six weeks of basic training, followed by a free trip on a slow boat to Korea and then directly to the front lines of war?
Such knowledge could have swayed public opinion. However, history has shown that the truth is a better option.
That said, I am grateful that the military has scores of people who keep looking for troops lost abroad.
Thankfully, many veterans do come home—and for that, I offer my humblest gratitude for your service to our country.
My family has taught me to make peace with the fact that there are some things we will never know or understand.
Making peace is a good thing.

LSS: Bucket o Buttons

Writing a column every week for nearly a decade has given me plenty of options in considering ways and means to come up with writing topics. When I worked in full-time journalism, I had one of those PMS color swatch books that includes thousands of shades of the rainbow. For some reason, when I struggled to come up with a column topic, I would fan out that inch thick stack of swatches. Somehow one of those colors, or a combination thereof, would make me think of something to write about.

But the best thing ever that I can use to come up with a writing topic is a bucket of hodgepodge buttons. I can’t fully explain why, but I love picking up buttons of various sizes, colors and shapes and watching them fall. Maybe I love them so because when I was a kid, I spent so much time with my grandmother who was a seamstress. For several years, she believed buttons were the only thing I could readily play with and not hurt myself. I would sit and play with them for hours. Even still, I love to imagine where a button has been or what it could be.

Hold that thought.

Last week my daughter, Greer, and I visited Massachusetts. While there, one day we were able to spend time with one of my favorite folks in the world, former Daily Advertiser Accent editor, Doug Gruse.

Doug, Greer and I stopped by an antique shop of sorts. Greer didn’t fully appreciate the place. She says calling it a shop is a generous. It was basically a shed behind a guy’s house, filled from floor to ceiling with all manner of objects from full estates purchased over the years. The building was chaotic, but the rows and shelves were organized. Every single item was meticulously hand-labeled and priced. Like items were generally together. The prices were more than fair.

Amidst packs of cards, costume jewelry, old signs and chairs, I went through at least nine little old lady’s sewing baskets. My head was swimming at the possibilities of the stories those baskets could tell. Each item in the baskets was methodically priced, but otherwise they seemed to be just as the owners had left them in a drawer for years. The tape measure rolled up tight. Perfect little scissors. A few spools of black and white thread. A piece of elastic. Maybe a little lace.

The shop owner had removed specific items from the sewing baskets. There was a shoe box top full of thimbles and a shoebox full of pincushions. But the thing I loved most, I found on a dark shelf right around the corner from the thimbles and pincushions. There was one small bucket, three jars and one clear plastic tennis ball can full of old buttons. Even the buttons were organized to a certain extent. Silver buttons were in one jar. White buttons in another.

I wasn’t surprised that Doug was as drawn to the random containers of buttons as I was. For $18, he and I bought all the buttons in the place (except for the expensive silver ones). Doug is a talented seamstress and crafter extraordinaire. Everything he makes looks like something Martha Stewart may feature in an upcoming catalog. I do not have that gift. Doug ended up keeping all the button jars but one. I have no doubt that he’ll put the buttons to good use.

I, on the other hand, left with a half-pint Kerr canning jar labeled “Container of large buttons. 804314707 $3.”

Maybe I’ll surprise myself and make something too with my tiny jar of 25 large buttons or maybe I’ll just keep them hanging around for those days I’m in need of inspiration. For now, most of them go beyond the dusty state and fall into the downright dirty category. I’m uncertain how buttons could have gotten this dirty. Maybe I don’t want to know. That thought alone makes my imagination run wild.

Upon closer inspection, I see the little jar has two sets of three matching buttons. One set is white, pearlized 3„4 inch flowers. I suspect that someone once thought these buttons the height of style and felt quite beautiful wearing them. The other matching ones are hardy black/blue buttons with a green streak running through. They look like they may have been on a pea coat long ago.

A couple of the buttons still have tiny bits of thread lodged in the buttonholes. The buttons seem sturdier and heavier than buttons of today. They were likely used for many years, and then someone somewhere saved them to be used again. And here they sit on my desk — being used in a way that that whoever placed them in this tiny jar never expected.

Sometimes we have to look for inspiration in surprising places.